Stat attack!: Travelers Championship preview

By John AntoniniJune 17, 2014, 8:02 pm

Paul Goydos, displaying the kind of understated comedic timing he is known for, was once asked about what was perceived to be a weak field at a PGA Tour event. "There are plenty of major winners, here," he replied. "They just haven’t won them yet.”

That line seems to fit this week’s Travelers Championship. Several of the best players without a major are in the field this week – Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar – as are some players so young that you have to squint to see their major potential from TPC River Highlands. Five players making their PGA Tour debuts as professionals are playing in Cromwell, Conn., and that potential is there. Led by top-ranked Patrick Rodgers (shown), all five are ranked in the top 33 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking as they make the transition to pay for play. They might not win this week, but they should hit the ground running.

Players making their PGA Tour professional debut at the Travelers Championship

 Player Amateur rank Amateur highlights
 Joey Garber 31 Captain at Georgia in 2014, T2 in 2013 Southern Am
 Oliver Goss 12 2013 U.S. Am runner-up, low amateur at 2014 Masters
 Patrick Rodgers 1 11 wins at Stanford, 2013 Western Amateur champ
 Cameron Wilson 4 2014 NCAA individual champ, 2-time Met GA champ
 Bobby Wyatt 33 2014 SEC Champion, once shot 57 in Alabama Junior

It’s not often that five players of this caliber debut at the same time. It’s doubtful they’ll all win majors, but like the NFL draft’s quarterback class of 1983, it’s almost certain there are some stars in the making.

The Travelers Championship is the perfect tournament to hold the week after the U.S. Open, where long holes and fast greens can vex even the most seasoned veteran.  At TPC River Highlands, the greens are flat and the course is more than 700 yards shorter than Pinehurst No. 2. The winning score of last nine champions was lower than 10 under. Hitting greens in regulation isn’t as key as it is at a major. None of the last four Travelers champions finished as high as T-27 in GIR.  In fact, two of the last four winners weren’t in the top 10 in GIR, fairways hit or strokes gained putting.

Statistics of Travelers Championship winners: 2011-2014

 Year Player Fairways hit rank GIR rank Str. gained/putting rank
 2013 Ken Duke T-10 T-62 T-10
 2012 Marc Leishman T-15 T-28 T-48
 2011 Freddie Jacobson T-9 T-34 1
 2010 Bubba Watson T-58 T-30 T-41

Duke won for the first time in his 187th career start last year. He was the sixth player to make the Travelers Championship his first PGA Tour win in the last eight years.

First-time winners at the Travelers Championship

 Year Winner Tour start
 2013 Ken Duke 187
 2012 Marc Leishman 96
 2011 Freddie Jacobson 188
 2010 Bubba Watson 122
 2007 Hunter Mahan 122
 2006 J.J. Henry 177

It looks like our quintet of professional novices doesn't have quite enough experience to win this week. But what winless players in the field have played about 100-200 events and might be considered contenders outside Hartford? Discounting players on medical extensions and those without full status on Tour in 2013-14, there are nine winless players in the field who have played between 90 and 200 events on Tour. Some have come closer than others to winning, especially this year.

Winless players in the Travelers field with between 90-200 PGA Tour starts

 Player Previous starts Best in 2014 Best Travelers
 Ricky Barnes 171 T-9 Puerto Rico T-5, 2010
 Kevin Chappell 114 T-10 Colonial No cuts made
 Chad Collins 97 T-6 Humana No cuts made
 Erik Compton 100 T-2 U.S. Open T-30, 2013
 Brendon de Jonge 199 T-6 Wells Fargo T-8, 2012
 Graham Delaet 97 T-2 Farmers, Phoenix Third, 2013
 Bobby Gates 94 T-80 Farmers No cuts made
 William McGirt 109 T-6 Northern Trust T-30, 2013
 Nicholas Thompson 182 T-10 Colonial Fourth, 2011

Players with medical extensions who fit this category include Kris Blanks, Doug LaBelle II, Spencer Levin, John Mallinger and Steve Marino.

Playing on a course with flat greens and where birdies come fast and furious, it might stand to reason that the eventual winner would putt well from long distance. Duke made 10 putts from more than 10 feet last year and made a tidy 50 percent of his putts from 15-20 feet in 2013.  There are five players in the Travelers field who averaged more than six putts made per event from beyond 10 feet. Keep in mind, this doesn’t count events, such as majors, where ShotLink lasers are not available on all courses.

Tour leaders in putts made per event of 10+ feet who are in the Travelers field

 Player Tour rank 10+ putts made per event
  Matt Kuchar 5 6.9
 Sergio Garcia 6 6.8
 Sang-Moon Bae 9 6.3
 Jason Day T-12 6.2
 Harris English T-12 6.2

One notable performance aspect at the Travelers Championship is that star players have multiple successes there. Bubba Watson won in 2010 and was second in 2012. Hunter Mahan had a win and two seconds in a three-year stretch. Ryan Moore has had a pair of seconds. The three players have outstanding records in this event.

Watson, Mahan and Moore at the Travelers

  Starts Top 10s Wins Seconds Scoring avg.
 Hunter Mahan 12   1 2 68.12
 Ryan Moore 8   0 2 67.73
 Bubba Watson 7   1 1 67.42

One final note: When Duke won a year ago at age 44 he was the oldest player to get his first PGA Tour victory since Ed Dougherty, who was 47 when he won the 1995 Deposit Guaranty Classic (now Sanderson Farms). Duke was the fifth player to win the tournament in a playoff in the previous 10 years.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantonini

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.